A political thriller set in the former East Germany, every page of Jack Thompson's novel is infused with inside knowledge, expertly depicting the expat life and its continual conflict between irritation and deep affection for the country in question. And this is a country in turmoil, struggling to come to terms with die Wende: the fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent reunification of Germany after forty-odd years of political, ideological and economic division. The protagonist, Charlie Barrow, is less complicated than the world he inhabits, a rather lonely middle-aged journalist with a fondness for a drink and a past in military intelligence: a kind of Olde English Jack Reacher, he's unafraid to take on skinhead thugs in a Dresden tenement bar, but crumples at the gory sight of dismembered body parts on the streets of Berlin. Tenacious to the point of recklessness, he inevitably comes to play the leading role in his own news story. When his boss at the TV station refuses to let him cover the deaths of two local members of The Movement, a right-wing group the government is trying to ban, he walks out on the job and chases the story as a freelance. He's not entirely alone, though, aided by his newshound pal Maguire and enlisted by an irresistible police inspector (all crisp German efficiency with a soft centre) to meet up with some neo-Nazi informers and chase the story to its dramatic conclusion.
From the intimate detail of internal politicking in a TV news station, to the depressing airport café and the desperate greyness of wet autumnal streets, Thompson describes the grubby, noirish atmosphere of post-Reunification Berlin to perfection. The trail takes him from the capital into the heart of the former Eastern bloc to meet up with the informers and, ultimately, to learn what drives the Movement and how it has managed to recruit East Germans and Arabs alike.
After a slow start, the plot speeds from location to location, with twist and countertwist aplenty, until you're almost as confused and unsure who to trust as Charlie himself. But with the web of intrigue spreading far and wide into Germany's various secret services, the international media, even into government, everything is building up to a suitably dramatic climax - the ultimate assassination plot that must be foiled. Occasionally the expository dialogues on history and politics go on longer than seems strictly necessary, and a few elements such as Charlie's dream life (beautiful women loved and lost, and the Holocaust) fade away without resolution, but overall An Evil Device is a worthwhile read and one that leaves you with a deeper understanding of one of our European neighbours.
Jack Thompson has lived in Dulwich for twenty years. He was the foreign correspondent for the BBC World Service, covering Eastern Europe, Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, Lebanon and Iraq. In 1995 he left the BBC to join Deutsche Welle TV in Berlin. Since 2002 he has devoted his time to writing. His next book is entitled Breaking the Cross and is set in Hungary
The Order of Merit: One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour is a comprehensive history of the first hundred years of this senior order from 1902-2002. In the personal gift of the Queen and limited to 24 Ordinary Members at any time, the Order of Merit recognises leaders and exceptional personalities in a wide range of fields, ranging from Winston Churchill to Florence Nightingale, Laurence Olivier to the Prince of Wales and Lucien Freud to Tom Stoppard.
The biographical sketch of each member focuses on achievements for which he or she received the honour. In the process this work functions as a highly original insight into 20th century British political and cultural history and an unusual reference book on Britain's elite. Also fascinating is the section detailing those who have refused the Order, notably Rudyard Kipling, and those who might have been considered. The book is a key addition to an understanding of how power and patronage work in Britain at the highest level. The text is illustrated by over sixty photographs, portraits and cartoons drawn from contemporary sources including the Royal Collection.
Philip Ziegler writes; Stanley Martin combines the fruit of considerable research with a light touch and, with the benefit of hindsight he is not afraid to discuss whether the right people were appointed and who he thinks might have been better candidates. His anecdotes help to bring to life many of its members.
Stanley Martin CVO, a long time Dulwich resident, was a diplomat for 35 years, First Assistant Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps and Associate Head of the Protocol Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He is now Extra Gentleman Usher to the Queen. He is Chairman of the Royal Overseas League.
The Order of Merit: One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour is published by I.B. Taurus in hardback £25